Indian community raises fund to free 'blood money' prisoners

Indian nationals languishing in prisons across the UAE for failing to pay "blood money" will benefit from a new fund established by their fellow expatriates.

DUBAI // Indians languishing in prisons across the UAE for failing to pay "blood money" will benefit from a new fund established by their fellow expatriates. The Indian Business and Professional Council, Sharjah and the Indian Golfers' Society along with several community groups have already raised Dh500,000 for the fund.

A portion of the money will be handed to the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), which will seek the release of 13 men identified as being most in need of assistance. "These men are in jail for causing death unintentionally," said Mr K Kumar, the chairman of the ICWC. "They are mostly cases of traffic accidents, where they unknowingly got into a situation." Under UAE law, Dh200,000 must be given to families of victims as blood money, or diya.

Mr Kumar accepts that the Dh500,000 collected will not be sufficient to secure the release of all 13 men but is hopeful that more funds can be raised. "We often talk to the victim's families and try to convince them to pardon or reduce the blood money amount," he said. "We have taken up the challenge of paying the money owed by these 13 men. "We will collect more funds and I know the Indian community has the potential to pay for this cause.

"Most of these men are labourers or drivers who get stuck in such a situation. There is no way they can afford to pay the blood money." Among those who will benefit is RR, a man in his late 20s from Kerala who was arrested in 2007 for causing the death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident. He was driving a rented car and had been issued a driving licence six months before. "No insurance was given by the rental company as they claimed that RR was a new driver," Mr K Kumar said.

He was sentenced to a month in jail and fined Dh6,000. However, he continues to languish behind bars because he is unable to pay the blood money. BA was sentenced to a month in jail for causing death and damaging property while driving without a licence. He has been in jail for two years. "My biggest concern is that most of them are men in their late 20s and 30s who are doomed for life because of one mistake. They can never see their family or live their life," said Mr Kumar.

The beneficiaries of the fund will be selected by a five-member management committee. "This fund will not be used for people who have been charged with serious crimes like murder or drug trafficking and others," said Mr Kumar. Apart from assistance with blood money, the fund will also provide financial help to the distressed families of prisoners who are back home. Bharatbhai Shah, a member of the committee, said that the idea arose from a common desire to do something constructive for the community.

"This fund came up from the thought that we should do more than just playing golf and organising dinner parties," said Mr Shah. "This is a start for us to help the community." Indian business groups are often criticised for not doing enough to help the thousands of expatriates struggling in the UAE, but Mr Shah said that could change if the right community leadership emerges. "People want to do something but someone has to come forward and act as a guide. There is no shortage of funds. We hope this fund becomes a lighthouse for many other associations."